Poetry Slam 101

New to slam poetry or need a refresher? Shelby Handler, Youth Speaks Seattle co-coordinator, shares some thoughts on slam history and the slam experience as they gear up for the first Youth Speaks Seattle slam on December 20th (this Friday) at Harambee, 316 S. 3rd St., Renton, WA, 6:30 – 9:30 pm. (youth poets should sign up at 6 pm to slam)

Q. What are poetry slams and how did they develop?

A.  Poetry Slams are competitive poetry events where 5 randomly selected judges score poets on a scale from 0 to 10 (using decimals). Sounds weird, right? You might be wondering: why would we score poems that are often deeply personal, raw, dynamic, beautiful and honest?


And that is the trick of the slam: it’s a game. The game is the gimmick that gets folks in the seats, gets folks together, listening to poetry. Ha! It’s all a big trick. For Youth Speaks Seattle, the competition is fun and always full of LOVE! These poets are AMAZING, let’s be real, but they are also there to support one another and grow from being in community with other young poets. With that balance in mind, we like to chant at slams: The point is not the points, the point is the POETRY!
If you attend Friday’s slam, you’ll hear this spiel from the hosts, which the brief history slam recited at most events: Slam was invented in Chicago, in the 80s, by a construction worker named Marc Smith who was tired of going to boring poetry readings where the audience wasn’t engaged in the performance. Slam was a way of giving poetry back to the people and creating a conversation between poet & listener.

Q. What does a typical poetry slam look, sound and feel like?

A.  A typical slam with Youth Speaks Seattle feels like a cauldron of buzzing nervous energy, home, love, joy, talent, risk taking, spirit, history & hella youth power. If that makes any sense. They are often raucous events where the audience is snapping, stomping, yelling, MMMM-ing along with the poet to give them feedback & energy as they perform their heart out. They feel like a journey. Between so many fabulous poets and audiences that are right beside them as they go *there* with hilarity, sadness, truth & resistance. But to truly know the YSS magic: ATTEND A SLAM!

Q. What can people expect to experience if they attend the Youth Speaks Seattle poetry slam on Friday?

A. People can expect to be blown away, humbled, surprised, challenged, inspired, impressed, welcomed and strengthened by the voices of youth who can speak for themselves. These youth are not messing around. One thing you can expect is to hear the following chant: YOUTH RIGHT NOW ARE THE TRUTH RIGHT NOW! Cause that is what Youth Speaks is all about – honoring new generations of artists & change makers!

Want to know more? Check out this video of Seattle 2013 slam team member Hamda at the 2013 Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam.

Hamda 2013 video